Last week, a local council in Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish voted against changing an existing street name to Martin Luther King Boulevard, but not before a heated debate among its residents, seen in a video posted by Nola.com Monday.
The proposal to change the name of half-mile stretch of roadway in the parish’s predominantly black community Violet was first introduced by the local NAACP in March, according to WDSU News. Rev. Kevin Gabriel, president of the local NAACP chapter, told reporters at last Tuesday’s meeting that 28 of the 34 households on the street signed the petition in support of the changing the name from Colonial Boulevard to Martin Luther King Boulevard.
However, a number of white residents, many from other neighborhoods within the parish, showed up at the council meeting to protest the name change. Some said the name Colonial reflected the state’s history as a colony of Spain.
“St. Bernard has an incredible history. Please do not change it,” said a white resident named Rachel Bazile.
Other white residents had more racially-charged reasons to oppose the name change:
“If you look around the world, every Martin Luther King Boulevard is crime-ridden and drug-ridden. Why the hell would we want that in this parish? All because a few people want it. The rest of us don’t,” said one white resident. “It’s absolutely ridiculous. Martin Luther King was a great man, and all the streets that are named after him does not reflect the content of that man’s character.”
Some residents didn’t see the need for honoring King with a street name.
“He didn’t live in this parish. He did nothing for this parish. He didn’t even know this parish existed,” said a white resident named Charlotte O’Connor.
St. Bernard Parish is about three-quarters white, according to NOLA.com. But the Violet community where the street lies is 56 percent black, and the only minority-majority community in the parish.
“When those people come together, and those people say, ‘I want to change this street,’ and a majority of those people on that street say that, then I don’t believe that nobody else has a say so,” one black resident named Andrew Rhodes said at the meeting.
Much of the frustration among the African-Americans residents stemmed from a previous council meeting, during which one of the members of the all-white council tabled the petition on the grounds that it was a state-owned street and thus out of the local government’s purview. That turned out not to be true.
“I don’t believe that you’re that ignorant to know that that street wasn’t belonging to the state,” said one black resident named. “We believe we’ve been deceived by the council.”
The supporters of the name change argued that Martin Luther King fought for everyone’s rights.
“We cannot name a street a half a mile long for Martin Luther King, for somebody who fought for everybody. It wasn’t just because of black or white? The man fought for everybody. He was straight up for everybody,” one black resident named Gilbert King said.
But some of the white residents rejected the suggestion that their opposition was racially motivated.
“I’ve never had a racist bone in my body,” said one white resident. “But if you keep pushing me, I’ll show you my racist ways. Mitch Landrieu can go to hell, praise to lord for Bobby Jindal.”